WALTZ: So Many Great Racing Stories

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Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — Auto racing is brimming with great stories that have absolutely nothing to do with the competition side of the sport.

We stumbled upon one of those stories recently while talking with Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway owner Steve Earwood for a feature profile that appears elsewhere in these pages.

Earwood’s interesting tale involves a website domain, a professional wrestler and a substantial payday.

“I had a racer come to me back in the mid-1990s. This was one of our lower, lower tier racers, not even wearing a shirt. He says to me, ‘How come you’re not on the internet?’ Earwood shared. “This is in the dial-up days and I didn’t think it would ever work. My daughter was working for me at the time and I told her if this guy’s on the internet, maybe we need to look at that. Maybe there is something to this.

“Call the address people and let’s get therock.com. I didn’t even know what a domain name was at the time. She checks and there’s a jewelry store in San Francisco that has therock.com. He never started a website but he owned the domain,” Earwood continued. “So I call the guy and say, ‘I’ve got this little drag strip in North Carolina called The Rock and I’m going to try this website thing. I don’t think it’s going to work. I think it’s too tedious, people don’t understand it. You can’t beat a newspaper or radio for your information, but I’m told I need to have a website.’

“He wanted 1,200 bucks for it. I said, ‘No way, man. I’m buying my own name. I’ll give you 400 bucks.’ He agreed to 400 bucks, so I buy the thing and we get a website. Oh man, talk about spartan. That thing was an embarrassment, but we had a website.

“A few months later I get a call from a guy with the WWF (now known as WWE) and he said, ‘We are developing a wrestler we call ‘The Rock’ and we have a website for him, wwf.therock.com, but we would like to have therock.com.’ It was a Friday afternoon and we were getting ready to open up for a test and tune,” Earwood recalled. “The older I get I’m finally learning to listen to that little voice inside and that little voice said, ‘Don’t sell it.’ I’m thinking I might be able to get $20,000 to $25,000 for this thing. So I said, ‘No, it’s working well for me. We’re getting like a thousand hits a week’ – which was a gross exaggeration. I don’t think we got a thousand hits total. I said, ‘No, I don’t want to sell. I’m sorry I’ve got to open my gate. Sorry, I’ve got to go.’

“About three weeks later I start getting emails from wrestling fans, so I call the guy back. I said, ‘Did you steal my website? I’m getting emails from wrestling fans about your wrestler.’ He said, ‘No, it was on a wrestling website that The Rock was going to have his own website and people are assuming that it’s yours.’ He said, ‘We would really like to have the therock.com; give me a price.’ I don’t remember where the figure came from; I think I had gotten one of those Publisher’s Clearinghouse brochures that day and it was on my desk. I said, ‘$250.000.’ He said, ‘Let me call Vince McMahon and I’ll call you back on Monday.’

“He calls me back on Monday and he says, ‘Mr. Earwood, we are going to wire you the money Thursday.’ So I kind of fainted and said, ‘I want you to wire it to my bank. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to touch it, I don’t want to smell it.’ I had just bought out my partners and I was swimming in debt. I wasn’t even sure how I was going to make it.”

■ The Dirt Track at Charlotte, which will host the Patriot Nationals May 24-25 featuring the World of Outlaws sprint cars, is celebrating its 20th season.